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Bruce Willis' family revealed he was diagnosed with a condition called frontotemporal dementia earlier this year, a little less than a year after they first shared that Bruce Willis' health problems were requiring him to step away from acting.
In the Willis family's first announcement in March 2022, they explained that the "Die Hard" star was experiencing aphasia, a disorder that affects a person's ability to communicate, both spoken and written. Aphasia can happen suddenly, usually after a stroke or head injury, or it can be slow due to a degenerative condition. After several months, Willis' condition progressed, his family said, leading to his official diagnosis of FTD, made public in February 2023.
Frontotemporal dementia is unlike other, more well-known types of dementia that lead to problems with memory, such as Alzheimer's. FTD tends to impede a person's communication and executive functioning skills (such as organization and planning). It can also lead to behavior and personality changes.
Since his family first revealed Bruce Willis' health problems, they've also shared about spending time with the Emmy winner and some updates on his health condition. Bruce Willis' daughter Tallulah Willis recently explained that her family believes it's important "to spread awareness about FTD because there’s not enough information out there.”
"If we can take something that we’re struggling with as a family and individually and help other people to turn it around, to make something beautiful about it, that’s really special for us," the 29-year-old said on the Nov. 8 episode of "The Drew Barrymore Show."
Here's what to know about Bruce Willis' health in 2023.
Bruce Willis health update 2023
Bruce Willis spent Thanksgiving 2023 with family, including daughter Scout Willis, according to Instagram. In a brief clip that she captioned, "My guy," Scout Willis (the actor's second daughter with ex-wife Demi Moore) and her dad hold hands. She also shared a photo of herself resting her head in his hand.
Earlier in November, Tallulah Willis, Bruce Willis' youngest daughter with Moore, shared an update on her dad's condition during an appearance on "The Drew Barrymore Show." She described Bruce Willis' dementia as "really aggressive" and gave a glimpse of what it's like to spend time with him as of late.
"He is the same, which, I think, in this regard, I’ve learned is the best thing you can ask for," Tallulah Willis told Barrymore. "I see love when I’m with him, and it’s my dad and he loves me."
She added that their time together usually revolves around music: “Playing music ... and sitting in that and this energy of love, it’s really special."
Another recent update on Bruce Willis' health came from his wife, Emma Heming Willis, when she spoke about caregiving and how he’s doing on TODAY in late September for World FTD Awareness Week. It was her first interview since his diagnosis was made public.
“Dementia is hard,” Heming Willis said. “It’s hard on the person diagnosed, it’s also hard on the family. And that is no different for Bruce, or myself, or our girls. When they say this is a family disease, it really is.” (She and Bruce Willis share two daughters, Mabel, 11, and Evelyn, 9.)
Asked if her husband was aware of what's going on with his health, Heming Willis replied, "It's hard to know."
She added that accepting his diagnosis has been "painful, but ... just being in the know of what is happening to Bruce makes it a little easier."
She also shared that it's been "a beautiful thing amongst the sadness" to watch how her two daughters are learning traits like "love, patience and resilience" from caring for their father.
In February 2023, the Willis family shared in a statement that they finally had a "clear diagnosis" of frontotemporal dementia, adding that "challenges with communication are just one symptom of the disease Bruce faces."
Since then, his family has shared moments along the way that shed light to how his condition is progressing. For example, in August 2023, Heming Willis shared that she often struggles with staying positive with caring for her husband.
"I have to make a conscious effort every single day to live the best life that I can,” she said in an Instagram video. “I do that for myself. I do that for our two children and Bruce, who would not want me to live any other way.”
"So I don’t want it to be misconstrued that, like, I’m good — because I’m not good," she continued. "But I have to put my best foot forward for the sake of myself and my family.”
“Seeing my father hold my daughter today was something I will treasure for the rest of my life. His sweetness and love for her was so pure and beautiful,” Rumer Willis wrote on Instagram on June 18. “Papa I’m so lucky to have you and so is Lou. Thank you for being the silliest, most loving, coolest Daddio a girl could ask for. Best Girl Dad in the game …”
Also for Father's Day 2023, Heming Willis shared that she has "deep appreciation and respect" for her husband as he continues to father daughters Mabel and Evelyn, as his illness progresses. "Where it might not be 'conventional,' what he’s teaching them will span generations. Unconditional love, kindness, strength, compassion, patience, generosity, resilience," she wrote on Instagram.
A few days later, on her birthday, the mother of two, who turned 45, shared a selfie with Bruce Willis, alongside a message encouraging her followers to support the caregivers in her life.
The Willis family also marked his birthday in 2023 with a video of Bruce Willis' shared to Moore's Twitter account — the first of him since his diagnosis was announced publicly. In the sweet clip, his daughters and wife sing "Happy Birthday" to him as he jokes about their vocal range in the background.
What happened to Bruce Willis?
Bruce Willis was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia, aka FTD, and had to retire from acting. Before his family publicly shared his diagnosis in 2023, they revealed in March 2022 that he had to step away from Hollywood because he was experiencing a disorder called aphasia. Aphasia occurs when a person struggles with speaking, understanding, reading or writing.
Aphasia can be caused by a head injury or stroke, and the onset will usually be sudden, or it can be caused by a disease such as frontotemporal dementia, in which case the communication difficulties get worse over time, experts previously told TODAY.com.
In an essay for Vogue published in May 2023, Bruce Willis' daughter Tallulah wrote that his frontotemporal dementia "chips away at his cognition and behavior day by day."
What were the early signs of Bruce Willis’ dementia?
The early signs of Bruce Willis' dementia included difficulty communicating, aka aphasia, and "a vague unresponsiveness," Tallula Willis wrote in her Vogue essay, "which the family chalked up to Hollywood hearing loss: ‘Speak up! ‘Die Hard’ messed with Dad’s ears.’”
“Later that unresponsiveness broadened, and I sometimes took it personally. He had had two babies with my stepmother, Emma Heming Willis, and I thought he’d lost interest in me,” Tallulah Willis continued, later noting that this "couldn't have been farther from the truth."
She finally realized her father's health was declining when she was at a wedding and the father of the bride gave an emotional speech.
"Suddenly I realized that I would never get that moment, my dad speaking about me in adulthood at my wedding. It was devastating,” she recalled. “I left the dinner table, stepped outside, and wept in the bushes.”
FTD patients sometimes have “difficulty expressing themselves, understanding what’s being spoken and figuring out the meaning of things sometimes,” Dr. Jagan Pillai, neurologist at Cleveland Clinic's Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, previously told TODAY.com.
Did Bruce Willis retire?
Yes, it was announced that Bruce Willis was retiring from acting in March 2022, when his family revealed that he'd been experiencing aphasia. Aphasia is a symptom associated with dementia and other illnesses that causes difficulty with communication, both in speaking and understanding written and spoken language.
What is Bruce Willis’ health condition?
Bruce Willis was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia, which includes a variety of neurodegenerative conditions, his family announced in February 2023. FTD impacts the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. Its onset begins earlier than other degenerative brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, and symptoms start on average around age 58, according the Cleveland Clinic. Unlike other forms of dementia, memory difficulties aren’t the hallmark symptom of FTD.
“Most people, when they think of the word dementia, they think problems with memory and Alzheimer’s disease, but FTD doesn’t really show up as problems with memory. ... It affects how people behave, how they interact with others and how they speak,” says Dr. Sami Barmada, director of Michigan Brain Bank and associate professor of neurology at University of Michigan Medicine, previously TODAY.com.
Primary progressive aphasia is a type of FTD, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Aphasia can also be caused by a stroke, and in these cases the loss of ability to speak is usually sudden. But with progressive aphasia, as Bruce Willis likely has, it usually starts out mild and gets worse as time passes, Barmada said.
Other common symptoms of FTD include apathy or unwillingness to talk, changes in personality and becoming more depressed, lack of social skills and obsessive behavior.
“It doesn’t look like a dementia or something that you can put your finger on. ... Very often you’ll hear people say they just started to act really weird, and they’re not the same person,” Barmada said.
How long can you live with Bruce Willis' disease?
The average life expectancy for someone with frontotemporal dementia, which Bruce Willis has, is seven to 13 years after diagnosis, per the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration. Cleveland Clinic said the life expectancy is seven and half years, while Barmada told TODAY.com that 10 years or longer is considered a good prognosis.
CORRECTION (Nov. 12, 2023, 4:34 p.m.): An earlier version of this story misstated the source of Tallulah Willis' update on Bruce Willis' health. The interview was on "The Drew Barrymore Show," not "The Kelly Clarkson Show."
This article was originally published on TODAY.com